CHAPTER X: ON THE ROAD AGAIN

A SANTHARIAN NOVEL

 
Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. Viresse, finally having admitted to herself of her love for Rube, departs quickly to save face, and perhaps pain. But still more surprises lay ahead on the road to Elsreth.

 

iresse did not reach Elsreth until early afternoon, almost half a day before she was expected to arrive. She walked the entire night, alone with her thoughts and the gentle plodding of her step. She had turned about in Tyr Thromgolin and walked the entire way through the tunnel back to the carved entrance, then headed north east as she had been told, following the river as it would lead through the Kairian Teeth. As soon as she passed the great Argor, she began running. Not for any real apparent reason. Perhaps she liked the wind on her face. Perhaps she was relieving tension. All she knew was that with her stachel on her back and a sword at her hi- nothing could go wrong unless she let it.

Then she tripped.

Over a rock not much larger than an inkwell, but she lost all evidence of her graceful elven self and landed skidding on her side. When she finally came to a stop, she found her hip to be relatively sore, and she rolled over and sat up. She found the culprit in the road that caused her to fall,and she began laughing. Her belly began to ache as the crisp late night breached into early morning. Some tears even began to toll from her eyes - and soon she was no longer laughing. There in the middle of the road between Tyr Thromgolin and Elsreth, she began to cry.
 

She felt as if she was unwinding a great pressure off her shoulders. Rube had been such a pressure on her, and perhaps she on him. After a few minutes of uncontrolled sobbing, she sighed heavily and stood up, though be it only a little more graceful than her pirouetting fall as she had ran freely across the plains trail.

Viresse began a slower walk as she continued along the trail, amusing herself as she spied creatures no wagon master would have seen - they were far too loud. Tarepi skidding across the road, perhaps a feral barn cat pounding a mouse in the weeds, and even a herd of elk in the distance off to one side - they seemed to move slowly as they crossed the plains, and a few were actually aware of her - for they paused and looked in her direction. But they were not afraid, and soon began moving again with the rest of the herd. The noises of the early morning piqued her pale pointed ears, and it pleased her. Rarely did she hear that sound unless she was in a forest and awake to hear it - and that had not been quite a while considering her journeys to several villages.

One of these days, she decided, she was going to settle down in a forest, where every day she'd be greeted by the sounds of the creatures going about their lives. She would live in a place where not ridicule was intended or forced upon, and all would get along with a comon and kind courtesy. She had not found this place yet - nor did she know if it existed. But she told herself, one day it would be found, and she would be a resident. Considering the morals she had set for it - they wouldn't refuse her.

Her daydreaming continued for some time until she saw the buildings of Elsreth in the distance. Elsreth was not a small place - it was larger than what she imagined Tyr Thromgolin to be. Though Tyr was never really seen from the distance Viresse now saw Elsreth, so she could be quite innacurate. But it was still quite large, definitely larger than Nepris - the last location she had visited that quickly came to memory.

Soon the river dwindeld to nothing much more than tributaries from the Ancythrian Sea. Without much effort, she decided to go on the heavier worn trail - for she assumed that if anyone in this area wanted shelter, they'd head to Elsreth, for it was the closest city. She was more than halfway from Santhala, so she couldn't accidentally double back unless she actually turned around, and from her recall of Arti's meticulously drawn and detailed maps of Santharia, she didn't need to cross any mountains past the Kairian Teeth.

She came to a sign in the road. In crude, worn letters it said three words in Tharian:

"Grandelnink
To Elsreth"

Viresse came to the sign and looked at it a few seconds, then began to head in the direction the sign pointed. After about an hour's quick pace, she decided to sit to rest her feet. She stepped off the side of the road, and sat upon a small mound. She kicked her feet out and picked at a few blades of grass, then pulled her hood over her head. As she liked to travel and was becoming accustomed to the sun - if she wanted to feel any sense of rest as she sat, she was going to have to shun it for a short time.

She sat, hidden in her cloak for a short time. She pondered pulling out her journal to write, but was distracted from the thought as a pair of well-worn shoes attached to some dirty breeched legs and a mangy black cloak came into her field of view. She looked up and the sun obscured her view of the character's face. As she attempted to look at them, the character spoke, a melodious though tired voice that she concluded a bard could possess. But this voice had a cold edge unsuitable for pleasant songs.

"Do you mind if I sit beside you for a spell? I'm quite weary."

"Not at all," she answered, and scooted over on the mound to allow the man a seat. She did not look at him but tried to rest herself as she hid in her cloak.

They sat in silence for a few minutes, then the weary old man spoke again. "You don't mind if I sing to entertain myself, do you?" he asked, in a very polite manner.

"If you wish it," she answered.

The old, cold bard cleared his throat and began to sing- the resonant cold notes in his voice making the song sound as if he had created it for just this purpose - for just this moment...

"A human man and his grieving wife
are sitting side by side.
She is sobbing in agony,
He holds her while she cries.

'O husband, our only son has been
taken by the Queen of the Dead!
Her selfish thoughts and actions are cruel.
Is there nothing can be done or said?'

'My mourning wife, the silent Goddess
has taken him for her own.
We shall see him when it's our turn,
We'd best leave well 'nough alone.'

'Nay! I shan't!' She cried aloud
and promptly rose to her feet.
'She has stolen my child, I'll take him back!
This Goddess I will meet...'

With this she took a dagger sharp,
and cleaved Her wrists quite clean.
Her final words were quiet and calm...
'I want my child, O Queen...'

The husband knew, deep down inside
his wife would never return.
He eyed the dagger, and then his wife;
his love for her still burned.

And with a cut of his own two wrists,
the husband joined his wife.
They were finally happy, all as one;
Though they mourned the end of their lives."


The old bard finished his song, the last notes still resonating clear in Viresse's ears. She knew a fair lot of Queprur - but never had she thought of the Silent Goddess as a thief or robber as the humans saw her. It brought a new light into her eyes - and somehow, she felt rested. She tried her hardest to memorize the words she just heard as they faded from her thoughts.

"Kind sir - I am a writer for the Santharian Copendium - and I would love to include your song into it. Do you mind if I transcribe it?" she asked, as she reahced into her satchel and pulled out her book, quill and inkwell.

"Not at all, my lady. I've dreamed of a chance for people to know of me since I can remember. Perhaps if this song is heard - maybe the people of Elsreth will remember me." He spoke with a sad tone as if he was already dead, gone and forgotten. She felt bad, but quickly wanted to gain him the recognition he so deserved.

"Not a problem, sir. If you could just tell me your name- " She sat with quill poised in hand- ready to take his name down. But the longer she waited, the more she realized that somethign was wrong. She looked up beside her and the old Bard was gone. Viresse was puzzled. How could he have slipped off without her noticing? And why would he if he was so willing to allow his fame to come when he deserved it so? Viresse sighed, put her quill-holding hand on the mound she sat on.

And realized what she sat on.

She almost jumped up - until she remembered what she was there for. She transposed the poem as quickly as she remembered it and waited for it to dry, patted the mound kindly and whispered a thanks, then rose up and hurried on down the Grandelnink Road toward Elsreth.

Viresse finally reached Elsreth in late afternoon. The city was bustling with traders barking their trades, shoppers quickly bristling from stand to stand, and children playing with games and toys in the town square. Viresse tried to keep a low profile, but the same shocked look and gasps, and even shrieks from children caused her to become very uncomfortable. These people knew much more about dark elves considering their proximity to the Paelelon - she had hoped they'd be more tolerant. But perhaps - the Eophyrhim were more than what she was making them out to be in her own head. Perhaps they were far more menacing than she had thought. But she could make no conclusion as of yet, she had not met one.

She made her way to a weapon stand, and observed the hawker there. The man who ran the stand had a great array of rare weapons, and Viresse felt that if she was going to trade if at all, she'd have to do it here.

The trader, a human, kept glancing at her warily. It seemed every five seconds he was staring at her - over his shoulder, reaching for weapons in front of her or facing in her direction. It was definitely getting to Viresse. Finally he said something, though the tone was Brash.

"Look, killer. If you want something - ASK for it. You're not here to look pretty and I'm not here to let people fondle my goods. You got something to do - do it," he snapped.

Viresse huffed loudly at him, then quickly unsheated her dagger - probably too fast for most ofthe people in the area surrounding the tent - for they quickly cleared away, some quickly moving down the row to another trader. The man rolled his eyes at her and snapped again.

"Nice parlor trick, Darky. Do it again and you'll lose you'r Cor ridden head." He reached down and patted a sword at his waist, whose design Viresse had never seen. It seemed to have a forked tip and though it was massive at more than a ped in blade length, it seemed relatively light for the man had it strapped to his hilt and seemed unbothered by it.

"Look. I just want to trade this for coin. Any coin. I'm quite hungry and I do know what it's worth so don't try and pull some cuncu fur over my eyes. I see too well in the dark for that," she snapped back, feeling a little liberated by the heated argument. She grabbed the dagger by the blade and held it out to the trader.

Slowy the man took the blade from Viresse, but upon holding it quickly retracted his arm as if afraid of being bitten. He looked over the hilt-work and then at the blade. He then handed it back to her, the point first - easily showing his trust in her." It's a terrible Goltherrhim replica. Did your mother make that?!" he laughed loudly.

She sneered coldly. "Obviously you've never seen a Corhem craftsmanship. The Goltherrhim work is a sham compared to ours." She then unsheated the sword Rube had given her, causing the smith to drop Viresse's knife and begin to retract his own sword from its hilt. "This is a Goltherrhim replica of an elven sword. And it's terrible. It's got blood-channels and a hand guard. What elf in their right mind NEEDS a hand guard!? Mind you this was a gift - I'd not purchase this kack with my own san."

The weaponmaster slipped his sword back into the scabbard, and looked at the sword. "You got that from E'bei?" he asked, then gestured to see it. Viresse handed it to the weapon seller, then quicly snapped up her dagger. If she could get rid of that sword for a better one - all the better. She didn't need a reminder of her mistake with Rube.

"I did. In Tyr Thromgolin." She set one hand on her hip. "Give me a decent elven sword and I'll let you have that."

The man held the sword and ran his finger along the blood channel. "Is that where he is now?" He asked rhetorically, then looked at what he had on display. He then looked at Viresse. "Okay. I don't normally show this to anyone, but since you're a Darkie, I figure you already know so there's no point in hiding it." He set Viresse's sword down, then ducked underneath his display table. He pulled out a sour-looking elven sword. The handle was wrapped in black leather with a pine tar tacky grip. The blade was saturated black as if it was dipped in an inkwell and seemed to reflect a blue light when struck by the sun. Viresse cocked a brow in interest.

"I got this from an old merchant man. Said he picked it up off a dead Hound - his confidant was murdered by the lot of them - only one he could get back, and he took his sword as a trophy." He leaned closer to Viresse. "Accidentally killed another trader when he nicked him good. What kind of poison are on these things?" he asked inquisitively.

Viresse took the blade from the man and observed it. The weight was superb, far better than the sword she had before. The ergonomic handle fit so sweetly in her hand as if it was made for her. She looked to the trader. "Clean trade?" she asked.

"Absolutely. I love E'bei. Everyone loves E'bei," he said.

"Thanks," she said, and began to walk away,

"Wait a minute. You need a special scabbard for that," he said, and Viresse came back. She handed her old one to him, and he gave her the one for her new sword, a beaten leather scabbard with a metal tip and opening with a silver stitched filigree. She strapped it on, and smiled.

"Thanks again," she said, a smile across her face.

"No - thank you. I hate that thing." He smirked, and Viresse picked up the connotation that phrase carried. She turned away and slipped into the crowd, trying to figure out what to do until her Palelon escorts arrived.

She spent the remainder of the day writing about her experiences, in a slow and deliberate manner. She did not want to rush and she was quite hungry - speeding up for any reason would have depleted what energy she had left.
 

"I would have expected this place to be more tolerant toward drow, but their reactions are so much broader than any I've ever seen. Perhaps, As I pondered earlier, there is more to the Eophyrhim that I had previously concluded. Perhaps they are terrible. Then what have I gotten myself into? I hope that they will treat me like one of their own neverthesless, but as I don't know how exactly that is - there is little to nothing on the Eophyrhim or the Palelon - I don't know whether I'll be treated well. I guess I'll just have to keep a keen eye on how they treat one another, and gague from that.

But I know they don't like strangers. Will I come across as a stranger? Will I be in danger? Well - no matter where I go, I will be in danger- for Cor's sake I was born into a clan where it was normal to kill your friends - so getting myself into this shouldn't be all that difficult. Granted, I left Sevari for the reasons above, so I hope I can cope with the Eophyrhim.

Am I actually all that good of a drow? I mean I am not fond of killing, I'm beginning to live during the day, I have more human friends than drow, and I... I don't know. I mean - I look like a drow, but am I still one inside? And how does one gague that? "

People continued to stare at her, but she remained focused on her writing and herself. If she hadn't, the people would have definitely racked her nerves and she would have snapped a long tinme ago. But her writing kept her centered, and she laboriously poured out her thoughts into her journal in the elegant Ifer'hem text she knew so well.

Viresse was writing steadily until she felt a presence beside her. She tried to ignore it, but it felt very prying. The person who possessed the presence even scooted closer. Viresse finally looked up, and found quite a surprise staring back at her.

"Silfer!" she exclaimed, and reached out to shake his hand. His grip was strong, and they had a short laugh over the situation.

"I had heard of you coming here, but didn't expect in the least to see you!" he said, and turned to face her. Silfer Darkflare was yet another wood elf, the dark skin and pale hair denoted him to be of the Jhellerhim, a tribe to the north, living in the Istarin. Viresse had an affinity to the Jhellerhim, they were warriors, and still retained their fighting skills after centuries of disuse. She most liked them because not many did - a mutual respect.

"Well, quite lucky you are then - a situation arose in Tyr Thromgolin that caused me an early departure." She smiled kindly at him. "I had the weirdest encounter on the Grandelnink...-" She was cut off.

"The Bard?" Silfer asked, his eyes wide.

"I believe so. I think I took a rest on his grave." She laughed at herself. "He even sang a song for me..."

Viresse flipped to the place she had transcribed the hauntingly beautiful ballad, and handed it to Silfer.
Silfer looked at it for only a second. "You don't write so great - I can't read that."

"Sorry," Viresse answered, and took the book back. She then read the words to Silfer, finally snapped the book closed and waited for his reaction. He blinked a few times, then cocked his head.

"That sounds like humans, all right." He smirked, then rose from the bench the two were seated on. "I think - if you give it to Wren, she can really make something of it." He looked down, a hint of confidence in his eyes. "Of course, I know almost nothing about music." He nodded. "It was good to see you, Viresse. Give my greetings to those at the Compendium."

"When will you be back?" Viresse asked.

"Probably within a few months. I'm learning the Shadow Spell at the moment - it's not that difficult, but if I'm going to write it up I need to know it inside and out." He bowed his head gently. " Good day." He turned and walked away, disappearing into the crowd.

"You too!" She called to him, then turned to her writing. While Viresse knew that she should, she didn't quite have the urge to do so at the moment. She ran her hand over the rain-pattered cover, and sighed, then tucked it away in her satchel. She sat back and watched the crowds for some time, innocent in her observance but critical of the people that passed.
 
Viresse was never entirely fond of humans. Those that she was fond of were rare exceptions - for they made exceptions for her. As she thought, she realized that in all her time among humans, never had she bent to accomodate others. She had such a low tolerance for the things she disliked. Which was not good for a constructive environment, especially one she was associated in. But all that she knew have made her comfortable in a sense because she made them.

Perhaps... in order to make greater connections in relationships with those she could not entirely relate to, she had to sacrifice, make exceptions and make comfortable. If she did that, the relationships she created would be a greater benefit to her...

She paused.

Did she just think of relationships as benefits?

That was just like a Corhem. She shivered.

That's where her faults were.
 
The tribe she came from was cold and unfriendly. In fact, even among her people, she had not known this many people. It came to her as a great shock. She still acted like a Corhem, though in actuality, she had no yearning to return to her home forest. So why did she still act like one if she didn't feel like one any longer?
 


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